Last week we started a sermon series called “More, more, more”. Our culture is caught up with the desire for more. This is not a new thing at all. I think it is really helpful to see that the desire for more is a human thing. The whole book of Ecclesiastes is about the desire for more. It answers the question: what will bring meaning to my life. It is an uncanny account of how King Solomon goes search for meaning in more…. But in the end his conclusion is that more of all those things is meaningless! So this is not a 21st century phenomenon!
Now that is where we were at the end of last week – looking for life in bios (physical life) and psuche (emotions and will) cannot satisfy. The desire for more is not wrong at all because Jesus promises life and life to the full or life abundantly!
2. Remain in the vine
So when people ask, “what does it then mean that Jesus wants you to have a full or abundant life?” To answer that question I would like to read from a passage in John 15:1-16
The fullness that Christ brings into our lives is fruitfulness. The abundant life is the fruitful life. Verse 2 says ‘more fruitful’; verse 5 and 8 speak about ‘bearing much fruit’; verse 10 and 11 speak about love and joy; verse 16 speaks about ‘fruit that will last’. What is he talking about here: an awesome career, a body that never gets sick; and a circle of friends that all love you?
I am the vine; you are the branches.
The imagery is of vines and branches. If you like grapes or wine you are staying in the right province. If you have ever been for a drive in the so-called winelands you will have seen the vine that grows up out of the ground and the branches that are carefully supported by the neat rows of trellises. And if you go at the right time you will see the branches heavy with green or red grapes.
Jesus says that he is the vine that gives life (zoe-life) to the branches. There is a life that is in Christ that flows into us if we remain in him. A branch can’t bear fruit apart from the vine; a Christian can’t bear fruit apart from Christ. So to try and bring that right down to the bedrock of everyday life we need to know:
- What does it mean to remain in him?
- What is the fruit?
- How can we be more fruitful?
A. What does it mean to remain in him?
If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit;
In the KJV and the ESV translation the word remain is translated abide. What does it mean to abide? It is as simple as it is complicated: the act of trusting in receiving all the God is for us in Christ. The real, vital connection to Christ is our faith in him. It in one of the profound mysteries of what it means to be a Christian – that we are in Christ, united to him in his life, death and resurrection – I am in him and he is in me.
Remaining in Christ is not a not a once-off faith, but a continuing, active trusting in him. Trusting that the death the Jesus died on the cross was in my place for my sake to set me free from labouring under a burden that I cannot bear; that I can never be good enough or do enough to earn his love; that God no longer sees me in my failures but in the perfection of Christ; that God loves me (you) just like he loves his Son. We have been welcomed, accepted and received.
B. What is the fruit?
…you will bear much fruit
This is probably the key question at this point! Paul will go to say in Galatians 5:22-23 that the “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law”. Notice that it is not plural – fruits of the Spirit, but singular – fruit. The reality is that they grow and develop together and not in isolation. If you struggle with patience it probably means you need more love and self-control too. If you struggle with gentleness you probably also struggle with goodness and kindness. You can’t develop peace without joy. The growth is not independent but interdependent.
Now you may object that I have been stringing you along and that this kind of fruit is not really appealing – I want something more concrete, not these air-fairy character traits. So let me ask you a question: if I offered you R1,000,000 or the fruit of the Spirit what would you chose? R5,000,000 or R100,000,000. Or let me ask you another question: If you were confined to a 5 x 5 meter room for the rest of your life, who would you take with you – the guy who chose R100,000,000 or the guy who chose the fruit. Last question: what happens if you are that guy – you are locked to yourself for the rest of your mortal life – who do you want to be?
Even though we want to deny it sometimes, we know what is truly valuable in this life. It is not that there are no examples of people who have wealth and character. But I bet they had the character first and that is what protected them from the corrupting power of wealth or position or prominence. That is why it says, “against such things there is no law” – because it is so right. But in our society we have to legislate against the abuse of power, money and abuse and self interest.
C. How can we be more fruitful?
This is the perplexing and completely counter-initiative part of the passage. The way to be fruitful is to remain in Christ and if you do the Father will prune you. Pruning means cutting. So to produce fruit the life of Christ is flowing in us but at the same time the Father is going to pull out is clippers and cut us and it is going to be painful.
The fullest and most fruitful life means you will get pruned. There is this rubbish idea going around churches that the truly full and abundant life is one where there is no hardship or pain; a foolish and flimsy interpretation of the bible that says God wants to drop a mountain of good things into your lap if you just pray the right kind of prayer. No, the consistent picture on the Bible is of a wrestle, or a journey with twists, turns and bumps. Here John calls is pruning – and it is always for our good. I’m not even a gardener and I know that there are seasons that you need to cut back if you want to see fruit in the time ahead. You are not punishing the bush for bad behaviour – you are doing it to make it more fruitful again. And so it is with us – in his kindness the Father prunes so that we can grow. “Every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” This is the normal Christian life: the Father prunes and we grow; the Father prunes and we grow; the Father prunes and we grow; the Father prunes and we grow.
I don’t think any of us would contend that we could not grow in the fruit of the Spirit. Jesus looks at us and says: I am perfect in love, perfect in joy, perfect in peace, perfect in patience, perfect in kindness, perfect in goodness, perfect in faithfulness, perfect in gentleness and perfect in self-control. And I am working to make you like me. How? By pruning.
- Perspective: If you have been looking at your hardships, challenges and difficulties as evidence that God doesn’t love you, you are dead wrong. They are God’s grace to you. Rather than seeing them as judgement…
- Where are you facing hardship – not get me out but get me through. “Lord, how are you developing my character, making you more fruitful?”. (This is not to deny the reality of the difficulty of what you are facing – but only to see it as hardship is to miss what God may be doing)
- Are you vitally connected to Christ as your vine – otherwise enduring hardship will be a work…
“This is to my Father’s glory” – Solomon looked for meaning in the glory of the world and it was a meaningless pursuit…
Perhaps bring it back to Solomon?
- Read John 15:1-17
- Is it helpful to know that Solomon found the pursuit of life (bios / psyche) to be meaningless?
- How does the repeated use of the phrase ‘meaningless’ reinforce the message?
- What is the relationship between full/abundant life (John 10:10b) and fruitfulness?
- What do you understand ‘remain in me’ to mean?
- How do you do that (practically / spiritually)?
- What is the fruit that Jesus refers to here?
- How does Galatians 5:22-23 help us understand this idea?
- Does it disappoint you to know that the fullness is more about character than it is about worldly blessings?
- What is the balance between enjoying the worldly blessing that God brings into our lives and the fruit of the spirit?
- How does Jesus want to make you more fruitful?
- How is this a difficult idea to come to terms with?
- Do you even confuse pruning with punishment? How do you protect yourself against this?
- Where has Jesus pruned you in the past and how did it create growth?
- Where might Jesus be pruning you now and what would it look like to respond in faith to his work?
- What does the idea of pruning mean in the context of our local church?